What could be better than luscious artisan-made chocolate bonbons? Most people agree that well-crafted chocolate is a heavenly pleasure. Many Ashevillians and visitors have discovered French Broad Chocolate (FBC), WNC’s premier chocolate maker.
The FBC Chocolate Lounge at Pack Square is uber-popular, often with lines on a warm day, alive with people enjoying hand-made truffles, caramels, ice cream, liquid chocolate, cookies, brownies, amazing cakes and other delightful confections. The chocolate was hand-crafted and made at FBC’s Buxton Avenue factory on Asheville’s South Slope.
Built on love
FBC co-founders and husband and wife team, Dan and Jael Rattigan, have built the company on love (literally), with a mission to “Make awesome chocolate — pure, beautiful and delicious — sourced with integrity, crafted with love and served with gratitude.”
The Rattigans are chocolate experts, having lived and worked in the cacao-rich rainforest of Costa Rica for two years, owning Bread and Chocolate restaurant there, while developing sources for local chocolate. They moved to Asheville in 2006 to pursue their “passion for all things chocolate,” and started FBC in 2007. The French Broad Chocolate Lounge opened in 2008.
“Dan and I fuel each other’s creativity,” Jael said. “We couldn’t have built this business without each other’s strengths. Our dream was not only to make more and better chocolate, but also to build a beautiful factory, where our guests could experience chocolate being made before their eyes.”
In a carefully planned expansion, FBC moved its factory to the RAMP Studios on Riverside Drive. The expansion triples production capacity, and also provides ample room for growth.
Importantly, the new factory yields an even better chocolate with new equipment.
“The new equipment gives us the next level of chocolate making and control over flavor and texture,” said Jael, who is FBC’s CEO. “The chocolate we make is dramatically different with the new equipment — it really melts in your mouth.”
The new factory is a total experience in chocolate. It’s a much larger factory, with an inviting café for tasting chocolate delights and more space for tours and education on how FBC transforms cacao into chocolate.
“Our new 14,000-square-foot factory will allow us to increase our annual production from 18 tons to 50 tons and has been designed to be as awesome to work in as it is to visit,” said Jael.
“I’m super excited for Asheville to come see what we’re doing,” said Chloe Anne Davidson, director of retail operations and factory general manager. “The process has evolved into something truly special.”
FBC is an entrepreneurial success story, now employing 90 people.
Flavors to amaze
French Broad Chocolate’s top sellers are its truffles and caramels, made with the finest ingredients, such as puree of local red raspberries, local wildflower and honey, farm-direct maple syrup, local lavender and more — many enrobed in artisan milk or dark chocolate.
“It’s a team sport to develop flavors,” Jael said. “Dan is the ‘chief of innovation,’ and involved in process. The chocolate makers, Evan Ackerman (lead chocolate maker) and Owen Busse (chocolate production manager) develop flavors. I’m the ‘chief taster’ and we approve all flavors.”
After the mouth-watering collections of truffles and caramels, FBC’s next-best-selling item is its hand-crafted ice cream, followed by ever-popular hot chocolate.
Customer education is an important part of the French Broad Chocolate experience. Visitors to the new factory will see the large, artistic chocolate flavor wheel, designed by Dan’s sister, gracing the upstairs wall. Picture windows allow visitors to see chocolate being made. Enjoy the curated Chocolate Museum, too.
“The new factory and café are beautiful and meant to be fun,” Jael said. “We offer something for ‘chocophiles’ of all ages.”
Tours at the old factory were given on Saturdays, but the new factory is set up for daily tours, with longer tours on weekends.
Beginning in the education room, the tours offer a detailed and entertaining explanation of gathering and processing cacao. Lead chocolate maker Ackerman often gives the tours, talking passionately about the philosophy of FBC — building and nurturing relationships with cacao farmers at the source in the tropics.
FBC cares so deeply about the chocolate experience, the Rattigans offer tasting suggestions:
“Please taste each piece in at least two bites,” Jael said. “Take note, as your first impression gives way to a more complete picture. Close your eyes. Inhale deeply. Coat your whole mouth as it melts. Some flavors unfold in layers, so take your time.”
Such is the case with the new Rose, Cardamom and Pistachio bonbon, in the new Culinary Collection. It’s based on one of the first recipes Jael developed, but has been “reimagined” into a new flavor combination. Take one bite and the layers unfold — a layer of house made pistachio paste, topped with rose and cardamom ganache, then enrobed in dark chocolate.
French Broad Chocolate is truly a ‘bean-to-bar’ enterprise. The new factory café gift shop carries FBC bars, a new line of home baking supplies (chocolate chips, nibs and cocoa powder), FBC merchandise (including a fun ‘Chocolate makes me happy’ tote) books on chocolate and chocolates from globally-recognized chocolate makers.
Take home one of the collections of truffles and caramels to savor — The Signature Collection, The Culinary Collection, The Buddha Collection (Vegan-dairy free), the Holiday Collection — or build your own box of delights.
The new FBC factory is a chocolate aficionado’s paradise, at 821 Riverside Dr. Ste. 199, Asheville. To book a tour, call 828-348-5169 or email email@example.com.
The FBC Chocolate Lounge remains at 10 S. Pack Square, Asheville. Visit www.frenchbroadchocolates.com.
The old factory at 21 Buxton Ave. is being repurposed into FBC’s ice cream production facility, and will open in 2019 with a café and creamery. It’s a way of giving back to the community, with yet another source of French Broad Chocolate goodness.